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Mars Part II

By Grace Dawson
On February 15, 2019

Carmine's was dimly lit and smelled of beer and old wooden floors. The walls were painted a dark blue and held records, framed photos, and autographs scattered in fame ranging from college bands to more famous artists. Mars led them to her usual table under a Janis Joplin photo and hoisted herself onto the chair. Hazel sat in her usual spot right across from Mars, facing the window to people-watch and not at all fazed by this stranger they'd just adopted, who plopped his bag on the floor, shed his jacket, and sat down next to Mars.

"I've never been in here," he said. His voice seemed quieter than before. Maybe it was because it was contending with the sounds of the bar chatter and rock music. Mars watched his eyes flick around the place, taking everything in. It was a lot to take in, too; Robbie, the bartender, was perched on his rough elbows on the varnished surface of his bar in a heated debate over something or other with a man who wore an old gray cap and was gesticulating so wildly that it was a miracle he hadn't knocked over his brandy. Then there was a waitress - Debbie, Mars thought it probably was, judging from her blonde curls and tiny waist - clearing up another one of the tables in an impressive balancing act consisting of four plates, six glasses, and an inexplicable abundance of utensils. There were countless conversations between people of every age from everywhere, all brought together by music and cheap liquor.

"We usually come after a Friday lecture to unwind and procrastinate on studying," Mars replied, her attention coming back to the one sitting beside her.

"And people-watch," Hazel added. “Can’t believe we’ve never seen you before.”

"It's my first semester, actually," said Joe, "I transferred from Brown."

"Huh," was Hazel’s sole comment, but Mars could tell she was interested. "Why?"

Joe shrugged. "Better program, plus I wanted to be more in the city," he said. “Not that Brown’s in the country, but.”

"So you grew up in the country, then?" Mars pressed. She'd been in cities practically her whole life; it was all she knew, but that didn't mean she wasn't curious.

Joe nodded, his hair bouncing slightly. "And you grew up in the city?"

Mars mirrored his nod. "Yeah, my parents raised me in London until I was five and then we moved here."

"No way!" Joe's face lit up. "I mean, I don't know how much of it you remember, but that would've been pretty neat, right?"

"Yeah," Mars laughed, "I guess so. But you're right, I don't remember much of it."

"She doesn't even have an accent," Hazel lamented, "so when she talks it's just boring."

"Hey!" Mars protested half-heartedly, "that's not my fault."  

The three of them spent that evening nursing beers and conversations. Mars bombarded Joe with innumerable questions about growing up in the country ("Do you have cows?" was one of them, at which Joe grinned and Hazel snorted a "seriously?"). Hazel left the table several times to argue with Robbie about the latest Pink Floyd record, and Joe talked and listened to everything with extreme good nature. Mars supposed it was because he was so new; she knew she'd want to absorb as much information as she could if she'd been in his shoes, she just didn't think she'd want to glean that information from herself and Hazel.

Midnight crept up quickly, and when it did Joe looked at his watch and sighed. "I should probably go," he said, his words stringing themselves together a little slowly, perhaps because of reluctance and perhaps because he'd just finished the last sip of his fifth beer.

"We should too, Mars," Hazel nodded, "Mrs. O'Toole is gonna be pissed we're waking everyone else up coming back late again, but better now than never."

Mars nodded and slid off the seat, wobbling only the tiniest bit, donned her jacket, and slung her bag across her shoulder. "It was nice to meet you, Joe," she said once they’d made it outside and could hear themselves think. She could see the tiny clouds of her breath in the chilly air as she spoke. She extended her hand to him again, not entirely sure why but willing enough to keep up the good nature. He smiled and shook it, his hand much bigger than she'd remembered it.

"Your hands are freezing," he grinned, "how are they that cold? We just spent hours in here and it's roasting!"

"They're always like that," Mars shrugged.

"Oh." He paused, then smiled again, giving her hand another shake. "It was nice to meet you too. See you in Extragalactic on Monday, then?" He shifted, and despite the buzz, Mars thought she detected a hint of shyness.

"'Course," she nodded warmly (she hoped), "meet me outside and I'll sit with you." It was one of the few lectures she didn't have with Hazel, and she was glad she'd have someone to sit with now; she'd sat alone that Monday and had ended up next to a scrawny blonde boy who couldn't stop sneezing.

Joe's face lit up. "Really? That's great, it'll be nice to sit with someone I know." His cheeks were pink and his eyes a little glazed, an almost childish glee in them.

"Alright, come on," Hazel huffed, "you two can chat all you want on Monday. Let's get going so I can have some semblance of a night's sleep." She took Mars's arm and gave Joe a flash of her hand, barely a wave. "See ya."

He waved back at the two of them, then turned and started toward the subway, his hands buried in his pockets.

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